Defence Minister Faulkner and
Defence Minister Faulkner and Air Marshal Mark Binskin at a ceremony

The Netherlands parliament has debated and passed three motions which make it very unlikely that country will persevere with its involvement in the F-35 JSF project, although it will come under fierce pressure to remain a customer.

This ‘Dutch roll’ comes at a time when Australian Defence Minister, Senator John Faulkner, is officially ‘unhappy’ with the Euro torpedo fiasco, the MU 90-not the currency-leaving one to wonder what he might feel about defence’s handling of the far larger JSF related expenditure in this country.

But first, to The Hague.

The motions were tabled by the SP (Socialist Party), PvdA (Labour) and GL (Green Left) and may be summarised as follows:

Proposal 1 (SP):
The government not be permitted to contract any new obligations with the JSF program

Proposal 2 (Labour)
Cancelling the contract for the First LRIP3 test aircraft and get the money back from the US for the long lead items. Not buying/ signing contract for the Second LRIP4 test aircraft. Cancelling the participation in the MOU-IOT&E (Initial Operational Test and Evaluation)

Proposal 3 (Green Left)
Because the Evaluations of the F16 replacement in 2002 and in 2008 were based on wrong estimates and unreliable data, there needs to be a new evaluation done with new RFPs (Requests for Proposal).

All three proposals were approved by the Netherlands Parliament.

This development follows two highly critical audit reviews of the JSF project in the US, the firing and replacement of the military head of the project, and most recently the triggering of the Nunn-McCurdy law under which defence projects that exceed cost increase limitations must be revalidated by Congress to receive continued funding. That Congressional review is underway.

The Australian government however remains uncritically enthusiastic for the JSF, which will officially cost $12.5-13.5 billion for 100 of the aircraft that are supposed to replaced the FA 18s, the interim Super Hornets, and the F-111s, and maintain regional air superiority.

Or does it? Faulkner is responsible for a defence establishment that blew $1 billion on the failed Seasprite project, can barely manage to keep a single Collins class submarine combat ready, and has brushed aside performance issues with the Wedgetail airborne early warning and command aircraft and the MRH-90 helicopters, the latter currently grounded after one experienced a serious, but hushed up engine failure in South Australia in April.

So far Faulkner appears to have become as captured by the culture of incompetence that has an iron grip on defence purchases in Australia, as it has in turn been captured by the manufacturers.

But this can’t go on forever, and as some have noted, and even recorded (top photo) Faulkner shows signs of impatience with defence. The critical difference between our Defence Materiel Organisation and its overseas equivalents is that it represents the sellers not the buyer. It sells to the government, rather than act as a critical and vigilant buyer. There is no more prone and obsequious defence establishment than Australia’s yet it can’t become the last choir boy still singing in the chapel, especially as public scrutiny of the JSF project gathers momentum in the US.

Having become ‘unhappy’ with the torpedo farce, how soon will it be before Faulkner seizes upon the realities that are being confronted in Washington DC and The Hague?

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